Have you ever sat in a meeting bored out of your mind and thought to yourself, "This is the worst presentation in the world ... why are you sooo boooring?"Unfortunately, as we get older, we increasingly have the "joie de vivre" (the joy of living) removed from learning. It begins in high school, gathers momentum in university, and then the dull presentations really hit their stride when we get into our corporate careers. It's here that we are introduced to the idea that business is supposed to be this sort of serious, mechanical, straight-faced place, which looks and sounds a lot like Ferris Bueller's teacher:
The truth is that when the joy and curiosity are scrubbed from the classroom and replaced with rote memorisation and fact regurgitation, students’ brains are distanced from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.
Brain research suggests that fun is not just beneficial to learning but, by many reports, necessary for engagement and long-term memory. Neurologist and educator Judy Willis is one of many who has highlighted the learning benefits of fun:
"The highest-level executive thinking, making of connections, and 'aha' moments are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of 'exuberant discovery,' where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning. The human brain and body respond positively to laughter with the release of endorphin, epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopamine, and with increased breathing volume (more oxygen). When a lesson starts with humour, there is more alerting, and the subsequent information is attached to the positive emotional event as an event or flashbulb memory."
One way to make training more fun is to use "Icebreakers." Below we have listed a small sample of 14 activities. These can be used to warm-up a group when they first come into the room or after a break in your training session.
Each activity can be adjusted for …
- Small or large groups
- Business teams or with young adults in the classroom
- Teams who know each other very well or have only just met
In 3 Words
Describe yourself in 3 words. Have the participants elaborate on why they chose these particular descriptions.
Example: “Hi, my name is Tony and I would describe myself as:
Who Am I?
Have participants split into pairs. Have each participant write the name of a famous person on sticky paper and attach it onto the forehead of their partner, so that the person wearing the sticker can’t see the name. The participants take turns trying to guess who they are by asking a series of questions (the questions have to be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers). If the question is answered with ‘yes’, you may continue asking questions. If ‘no’, the other person has their turn. Continue until you correctly guess who you are.
- Am I female?
- Am I a fictional character?
- Am I alive?
This exercise can be performed in pairs or small groups. Give 3 facts about yourself – 2 true and 1 a lie. The job of the group or your partner is to guess which one is a lie.
- My favourite food is watermelon
- I have a pet dog named Harry
- I lived in Africa for a year
(The guesser is allowed to ask 1 clarifying question about each fact. E.g. “What was the name of the town in Africa where you lived?”)
Race for Truth
Have the group stand across a starting line. The facilitator’s job is to read out a series of statements from a pre-prepared list. If the statement is true about you, move forward one step. If it is false, remain at the start line. If the statement is false and you have advanced beyond the starting line, take one step back. The first person to make it to the finish line is the winner.
- "I have a pet cat"
- "I enjoy long walks on the beach"
- "My favourite colour is pink"
- “I can juggle”
- “I have an uncommon name”
Ask participants to introduce themselves and share which 1 super power they would want to have and why.
- Super Strength?
- Super Speed?
- Mind Reading?
Example: “Hi, I’m Jill, I would choose to have super strength so that I could move any large objects I wanted – including my house, so I could move anywhere I want!”
If You Won the Lottery
Ask participants to consider what they would buy if they won a million dollars in the lottery. Would you buy clothes, gadgets, a nice car, a house, go on a holiday? Would you give some of it away to charity, or would you do something more creative?
Movie of Your Life
Ask participants to describe their life if it were turned into a movie OR To think of a movie or TV show that most closely resembles their life.
- Who might the cast include? Angelina Jolie, Jim Carey?
- What genre would it be? Adventure, Romance, Sci-Fi, Horror?
Be outrageous and have fun with it.
Example: “Hi, my name is Karl and my favourite actor is Mike Myers so the movie that most closely resembles my life would be the Austin Powers films mainly because I have an English accent, I have funny looking teeth, and people often say I’m stuck in the 60s.”
Let Me Introduce…
Split into pairs. Assume you have never met (it works even better if you haven’t). Your job is to recite as many facts about your partner as possible and present this to the group. You have 2 minutes to swap information with your partner. Go! Each correct fact scores as 1 point. The team that is able to achieve the highest number of COMBINED facts about each other will be the winners of the exercise. No note taking allowed as this will encourage close listening.
Example: “Hi, my partner’s name is Sam; she’s 27 years old; her favourite colour is blue; she lives in a 2 bedroom house; she likes to read non-fiction books...”
Have a "Failure Party" where people share their worst idea, an embarrassing moment or giant failure with the rest of the group. The tone of the exercise should be fun and light-hearted rather than self-defeating and overly serious.
Example: “Hi, my name’s Mike, and one of the proudest failure’s that comes to mind was when I was working on a cattle farm for my dad when I was young. I couldn’t round up cattle, or do much of anything properly – except fall off my horse – which I was actually very good at. If there was a world’s worst farmer award, I would definitely win it!”
Just 1 Thing
Have the group sit in a circle. Ask a question from a pre-made list and then go around the group having each person give their answer. Once each person has answered, proceed with the next question. To make things more interesting, ask participants to share the very first thing that comes to mind in order to speed it up.
- One strength you have
- One weakness you have
- One thing you are grateful for
- One thing that drives you mad
- One thing about yourself you would change
- One thing about yourself you would NEVER change
- One thing you should really get around to doing
- One thing that gives you strength
- One thing that makes you weak at the knees
- One thing you would try if you knew you could not fail
You can create a ‘spectrum’ if you have space to work with by using opposing points in the room as the participants guide to where they are on the spectrum. E.g. From wall to wall or from one object in the room to another. Indicate what the two opposite ends mean and have people line up on the spectrum accordingly.
- Your exercise regime – never to several hours a day.
- Job preference – totally indoors to totally outdoors.
- Preferred home – deep inner-city to remote wilderness.
Who Could That Be?
Distribute a pen and paper to each of the participants. Ask each person to write a sentence about themselves that most of the other team members would not know.
- "I cannot cook"
- "I have been to Niagara Falls”
- "I hate exercising"
The facilitator collects all the pieces of paper and reads them out one by one. The job of the team members is to guess which person has written the note.
Gather everyone in a circle and get them to stand up and toss a ball to one another. When someone catches the ball, they shout out their name. It doesn't take long to play, and it's much more interesting than nametags. You can vary this game by asking more than one question, for example:
- Favourite colour
- Place of birth
Sit everyone down and then give each person the name of another participant. They must then try to recall all the answers given by the other participant.
If I Were A …
This is an icebreaker game to encourage ‘out of the box’ thinking, best for smaller groups. Ask each person to say what they would be and why, if they were…
- A brand of soft drink
- A type of golf club
- A piece of office equipment
- A cross between 2 animals...
- Any other random thing you can think of!
- Office equipment: “I would be a stapler because I like things to be organised and together.”
- Golf club: “I would be a driver because I like to play the long term game.”